Specifically, Colorado Revised Statute 1-13-109(2)(a) establishes that it is a Class 2 misdemeanor for any person to
"... recklessly make, publish, broadcast, or circulate or cause to be made, published, broadcasted or circulated in any letter, circular, advertisement, or poster or any other communication any false statement designed to affect the vote on any issue submitted to the electors at any election or relating to any candidate for election to public office."
A Class 2 misdemeanor carries penalties of up to a year in jail and fines up to $1,000.
But that hasn't stopped a Denver-based hit squad known as the Trailhead Group, LLC, founded by Gov. Bill Owens, from going after Democratic candidates all over the state. Here in Colorado Springs, it has attacked John Morse, executive director of Silver Key and former Fountain police chief, who is running against incumbent state Sen. Ed Jones.
Trailhead has sent out two glossy mailers to potential voters. Both are nasty. They accuse Morse of being "incompetent and lackadaisical." They wrongly suggest that he allowed a man who fired shots at police during a standoff to plea bargain down to a misdemeanor.
Similar radio ads started appearing, accusing Morse of botching an investigation. "Murder = Misdemeanor?" is how they put it.
Just for starters, district attorneys offer plea bargains; cops don't. And in any event, the old days when you could say just about anything about a candidate and get away with it are gone. The radio ads have been yanked off the air. A criminal complaint has been filed with the 4th Judicial District Attorney's office.
It's hard to tell the extent of the damage the lies have done to Morse, but one thing's certain: Jones, whose campaign is clearly meant to benefit from the attacks, has not bothered to publicly denounce them.
And the strange thing is, the Trailhead Group's attacks involve a case that Morse's police department was actually praised for. Here are the details:
In the early morning of Oct. 31, 2003, Morse says, a report came in about a potentially suicidal man who had gone missing. Some 36 hours later, police received another report that the man, Aaron Ulma, had come home. It was 4:30 a.m.
Three officers went to his house. They walked up to the door, which was open. They could see Ulma inside, and began talking to him from outside. He slammed the door shut, and at that point they heard him chamber a round in a semi-automatic handgun.
"That wasn't a good sign, obviously," Morse says.
The officers scattered around the house. At some point, either from inside or outside, Ulma cranked off a round over the head of one of the officers.
It was clear to them, Morse says, that Ulma was attempting to do a "suicide by cop." From inside his house, the officers heard another shot fired. They thought he must have finished himself off. The SWAT team showed up, and a Colorado Springs Police Department robot was dispatched to peer inside the window of the house. Inside, they saw Ulma lying there. It looked like blood was trickling out his mouth. The SWAT team flashbanged its way inside.
"Turns out he was just drunk," Morse says. "They took him into custody and to the hospital."
Ulma initially was charged with attempted murder of a police officer, but the officer indicated that she would not be able to, beyond a reasonable doubt, testify that he had purposely shot at her. The charge was reduced to felony menacing and reckless endangerment. Ulma was sentenced to three years in jail.
Following a federal investigation, Morse and his officers were not only exonerated from any wrongdoing, but praised for not shooting a suicidal man.
Given the facts, it's almost laughable to read this other gem that the Trailhead Group included in its nasty flier: "Tell John Morse to quit running from the truth and go back where he came from."
Almost laughable. If it wasn't so pathetic.